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For the first time in weeks, water fell from the heavens, bathing the world. The smells of the town were different. Mud that kids would roll in with no worries, filled with worms as they struggled to escape from watery graves, and the electric smell of the new, falling rain filled my nostrils. It had no effect on me when once a while ago, it would have made me wrinkle my nose. I glanced once more at the pastries and rolls in the window. I could just imagine the sweet filling, the sticky goodness that was fattening, but who cared if it could gain me a few pounds? I would’ve needed it. But then, I found the angry red sign on the door.
I pulled my light jacket tighter around me. Letting myself lean against the wooden doorway, I let out a huff. Today, I thought, is just not my day. I had missed my ride, been ripped off by an overzealous McDonald cashier, and I had missed my window to get the rolls from the woman at the bakery. My stomach grumbled in protest. I wrapped my arms tightly over my chest trying to quiet the noise though there was no one around to hear it. When my stomach quieted, I leaned my head back and sighed. I hadn’t eaten lunch and I hadn’t eaten dinner. Dinner. I fingered at my jacket button. The best places to eat on Sundays are.... I touched each finger as I named places where I could eat without spending more than I wanted. Cheaper was better. I was tired of trying to get to places that had reservations and over-the-top prices.
“Jewel, mall’s food court, Burger King, Taco Bell, McDonalds… No.” I folded my thumb back into my palm. “Not McDonalds.” I had enough problems with McDonalds to last me a good week if I could afford it. “Pizza.” I nodded. That was just what I needed to make up for the over-fattening frosting I had missed out on.
The rain had slowed to a soft drizzle, bearable to walk in without being completely soaked. I reached my hand out from the overhang, the rain dropping crystals into it. I clasped my hand, squashing the perfect domes into nothingness. Pulling my brown jacket tighter against me, I pulled the hood over my head. I could feel the chill of the night settling in as the cool winds blew the drizzle.
One, two, three! My feet pounded against the slick pavement. I stared at the ground, the ground winking at me as it glittered. Everything passed slowly as I jogged down the shopping center, trying to ignore the cars that sped by. If only I had a car again, I thought pursing my lips. But, I had left it when I moved on from my old life. Besides, they’re not looking at you; they’re staring at the road, Angie. I fixed my eyes on the pole ahead of me, determined not to slow down, hoping none of my acquaintances would see me. My hair was probably a frizzled mop of brown from the moisture, dark circles under my eyes because I wasn’t able to sleep well in my new king sized bed.
My heart pounded in my chest, as my breathing filled my ears. The Pizza Pub wasn’t supposed to be far away, only six blocks down. But, by then, it felt like it would be a hundred of miles away. My legs burned like they were on fire, begging for a rest. When had I gotten so fat? I slowed to a brisk walk. Before I knew it, I could see Pizza Pub in the distance, but I was wheezing. The air had disappeared. I stopped and bent over, trying to gain back my breath. My hair was coated with rain, my hood having fallen off. The drizzling had ceased, my body warm under all the layers of clothing. I resisted the urge to pull off my battered jacket and just sucked in huge breaths.
“Man, you have got to exercise more,” I muttered to myself in between gasps. My stomach groaned loudly, but not as loudly as I groaned right after. “And eat.”
I straightened up, moving closer toward the building when the greasy scent of mozzarella cheese flooded my mind. Was that fried crust I smelled too? My God, there was nothing in the world more heavenly smelling than the smell the Pizza Pub gave off. The aroma, the pepperoni, and the deep-dish delectable pizzas. Delicious-o! I know no one appreciated grease dripping from the chin or ruby sauce smeared all over the palm. Who could deny that the food would go straight to the hips or the thighs? But who, in the right mind, can complain when they get pizza that smelled like a touch of heaven?
Though my highly valuable shoes were thoroughly soaked, I avoided any puddles that had been born from the rainfall. In front of my doorway, I took a glance in either direction before I entered through the tall gates that should’ve been guarded by St. Peter. Holding my head up high, I looked objectively around pretending like I was normal and not a person that many resented for what I had. No one raised an eyebrow or glared. Smiling, I carefully picked my way over to my usual place, settling down in my darker-then-usual wooden chair. I still sniffed the glorious air that had only intensified as I got into the building complex.
I sat restlessly for a while, staring all around me, imagining what it would be like if the Pizza Pub actually had candles on the tables and the walls painted with a city skyline without all the smog. A glimpse of jeans and the Pizza Pub’s uniform caught my eye as a young waitress walked to a table far from mine. No one came asking me what I wanted or to leave. Taking things into my own hands, I went to pull my table closer to me to be in my reach, but as I pulled, the legs scratched the floor angrily like some one hadn’t oiled them. I grimaced, risking a glance to see if anyone had paid attention. No red lights blinked in my peripheral vision. Thank God. The last thing I wanted to do was to create a racket.
Dusting off my hands like my table was dusty rather than recently washed; I found myself fixated on the buffet-treasure trove. Before I knew it, I was staring at the condominiums and the different pizzas, looking for one that looked decent. No anchovies. Those were not normal pizzas. But to the side, I found an unopened box. My eyes widened as my hand touched the cardboard box, the heat radiating from the pizza warming my cold fingers. The letters on it were…
Robertson’s. On the house.
“My word!” I murmured.
My fingers slowly rolled over the note’s letters, feeling the impression of the words on the paper. I glanced around wondering who could be the kind person that had left me such a treat. I grinned remembering my mishap at the bakery and my day’s unsuccessful work. Someone really was looking after me. I was about to tuck the pizza under my arm when there was a click. My head shot up as a man walked out from the kitchen. His apron was as white as the first day of snow. But when he turned, my breath stuck in my throat.
It was him. Instantly, I dropped down behind my high table. Please don’t have seen me, I begged. I didn’t know what he was doing there, working that night. I never wanted to see him again. Not after he had broke off any chance of having a good relationship and definitely not after he threw a fork at my head during dinner a month ago. He had ruined my dinner and my life. So much that I never spoke his name since that night.
Peeking from the side of my table, I saw his big head swing back and forth slowly. Searching. As if he knew I was there, he started to walk towards me. I held my breath.
If I was the woman I once was… The thought slipped away from my grasp. My legs would not move me in front of him, my voice had left. I felt like some cowardly animal afraid of some abusive owner.
As much as I could tell, what he said in his native tongue was, “Hey Riino! Have you seen a lady tonight? Brown hair!”
“Gee! I dunno! There’s been lotsa ladies with brown hair! How about ol’ Connie! Or your mother!” a young man’s voice cried out from the kitchen.
I could see the man’s eyes hardening, his hand running through the grey thinning mop of hair he had left. While he retreated I wondered why I had even tried with him. Getting to my feet, and smiling at someone passing by the main dining room windows, I casually grabbed the pizza, tucked the light box under my thin arms and walked out without looking back.
“Thank you,” I said to the night as I crossed the threshold out of the Pizza Pub.
I decided not to go home; it brought too many painful memories. Going home only reminded me of my old parents who would look down at me – not that that was anything new – and make me uneasy. Instead, I took my pizza to a place where I knew I’d have complete peace. The park on Finiel Lane was beautiful with wide open space to jog or do anything. In late fall, it was even perfect for people-watching and painting or sketching.
But it was dark and the only lights were the ones that flickered overhead. As I walked deeper in, it occurred to me that I could be abducted, but anyone who would think of it wouldn’t do it if they knew my status. I wondered how many people would actually care if I disappeared. Either way, there I was free and alive. My parents wouldn’t help me even if they were alive anyway. After all, I was twenty-seven. I’m almost certain they would hurl me out of my own house if they were still around.
I sat down under a particularly large tree and opened the pizza box. The pizza slice was coarse in my hands and stiffened by the semi-long walk from the pub to the park. I took a big bite, chewing slowly as the juices and saliva softened the crust. About to lean against the tree, I spotted a lone tulip growing at the base. Opening my mouth wide, I stuffed the remaining pizza into my mouth and reached for the flower. Nipping it near the ground, I brought it up close to my face. The petals were intricate, a beautiful weave of pale pink and ivory. The petals between my fingers were velvety. I could see a young maiden in a gown entirely made of petals. Her dress would touch the ground, the dress ultimately sleeveless…or perhaps with three quarter sleeves. I patted down my pockets, searching for a pencil, a pen, but the only thing I had was Hoover flags. With the pretty thing out of the way, I leaned up against the tree. I toyed with the tulip glancing thoughtfully toward the far side of the park where all the other planted flowers were. How interesting, I thought carefully placing the flower into my jacket pocket. Hidden in the shadows, I was out of sight from everyone. Only the pizza box sat alone in the lamplight.
Absentmindedly, I picked at my nails filled with all the things pizzas were made of. Where could I be right now? Why wasn’t I there? Questions swirled in my mind, making me pick more furiously at my peeling nail edges. I only looked up when a boom echoed in the distance like a far gunshot. I searched through the unrelenting night for whatever it concealed. The shadows swayed from the slight wind that brought chills against my slightly camp clothing. Chattering took its arms up against the gathered and stilled silence, breaking it into a thousand small pieces. What the--? Without time to finish my thought my mind froze as a man walked under a streetlamp.
“Wow,” I breathed.
The newcomer had on a formal suit that was grey in the distance. I could make out his dress pants, only slightly creased and a flash of a smile on his clean, shaven face. His hair was a darker shade of brown, combed back like a star’s. A tuxedo suit jacket hung of a woman’s frail shoulders as she came into the light to hang by his lips, laughing between each kiss. She looked a lot like me, though a blonde and in a short red dress that I could never wear. The man pulled away, his mouth moving, but I couldn’t understand him as he spoke in a different language. The woman gestured to a tree nearby and I slunk deeper into the shadows so he wouldn’t see me. The woman, she looked happy there. Married? What if I was that girl in his arms? I could imagine the heavy soft cloth of the jacket upon my tanned shoulders, the minty breath of the man blowing into my face and warming my neck, his strong body pressed against mine.
A sigh of relief escaped as he shook his head and surprisingly pulled her away from the tree she gestured to. I took a step closer to them. When had I gotten up? But that didn’t matter to me. I could still see the man’s face in my mind’s eye though his back faced me, his hand laced with the beautiful lady he had brought. I bent down and gathered what was left of my pizza and hurried away, glancing back every few steps to catch one last glimpse. The one moment that would be a frozen was supposed to be a happy ending. The man and lady’s eyes bore into me. His arm rested protectively over the young lady. Even from a distance, I knew he was staring at me with suspicion and distrust. He doesn’t know you, Angie. I said that all too often. They didn’t know me. They didn’t know my life. I tried to never let it get me down.
Nearing my house, I visited my neighbor Henry just to see if he had anything that I would still need that he deemed as trash. But as I neared his dark green home with the black roof, Henry slunk out of his house, glaring at me. What do you want now? He seemed to say though he hadn’t uttered a word. I walked closer to see his hairy face and let myself invade his home. With a hiss, he let me in, but not before making it very clear I was not welcome. Henry was kind, but he had so many boundaries he still wouldn’t let me pass, but he didn’t try to chase me out of his home and I thanked him for that.
I grabbed up one of his jackets that had grey hairs around the collar, but other than that and a hole on the sleeve, it fit me. I took up some other things from his display and nodded to him on my way out. Henry sat down on a cushion on the ground, staring at me with his wise old eyes.
“Thanks pal,” I said lifting the coat as if it was a toast to world peace or some other elegant proposal.
The building between our homes was laid with thick dirty brick. Abandoned, it had fallen victim to being vandalized. Even when I caught the kids at it, they would be gone before I would get hold of the police. My house was dark, no lights lit or way to show any living thing would be there. Home sweet home.
I walked into the darkness, pausing only when I saw a tossed piece of fabric in front of my door. My eyes looked around, the house just as dark and quiet as it always was at that time of night. It was a quiet neighborhood for as long as I had lived there. No rowdy kids would run rampant through the streets…at least, not usually. But they never threw rocks at my home and I never reported them.
The cloth was nice and thick, a real Godsend. I shook the blanket out finding it was a dark green bed comforter. Pulling the cloth close to my nose, I inhaled. Though it was sitting on my doorstep, the familiar scent of Henry and his home let me know all I needed. Soft padding steps behind me alerted me that Henry had followed me.
“Hey Henry,” I whispered. It was a whisper an old librarian would be proud of. I gave him a mild smile and ducked into my house putting the leftover pizza to the side.
Henry protested swatting at me as I sat on the ground and kicked off my wet shoes and socks. I pushed away the old geezer and wriggled my wrinkly toes. I rubbed them vigorously, the cool air making me wish for bunny slippers, or something of the like. Henry moved farther away from me, though by only a foot, from the pungent scent of my feet. His beady eyes never left me as he grabbed up the blanket and dragged it over to the far corner of my bedroom.
“Oh no you don’t,” I said chuckling. I reached over and grabbed the blanket pulling it over myself and leaving a space for Henry to lie next to me. That was, if he wanted to sleep with me.
I settled in, placing my hands behind my head, staring up at my ceiling as Henry suddenly jumped on top of me, his body oddly heavy for such a thin guy. I smiled at him, running my fingers through his long hair.
“Are you happy, Henry?”
Of course, Henry didn’t respond but readjusted himself on top of me before yawning and settling his head on my chest. I stretched up my hand and pushed open the back of my home, the cardboard swinging outwards. I scooted up, careful not to bother Henry as I looked up at the clear sky that was now able to expose the stars. Immediately, I caught sight of O’Bryan’s belt, the almighty warrior made by all the seemingly little things. Those little things twinkled in the far distance, small pinpricks of hope. My finger grazed over the slightly soggy bottom of my cardboard boxes from under my head, but the ceiling was dry from all the thrown out raincoats I had gathered over the last week. Frowning, like I seemed to do every other night, I was left there lying in a plain home that was small, cramped, and likely to fall apart at any moment. My clothes were trash and I only lied to myself. Over and over, it was always the same.
Henry turned over in his sleep and swished his tail, thumping it against my side where something soft felt odd. I reached into my pocket and wrapped my hand around a soft thing. The velvet feel put me off, the strength of something under the soft top. I pulled out the little beauty I found at the park, the one I had almost carelessly smashed. In the other pocket, I pulled out a small decorative cross I found in the trash heap and placed it next to me by the pizza box.
“Oh Henry,” I sighed. “At least it’s not raining and at least you love me right?” Henry’s tail flicked back and forth in his sleep like he was listening. I rolled my eyes in the dark. “You’re some cat…” I stroked his small head knowing I had what a lot of other people didn’t.
My face softened the more I looked at it and its beauty. Reaching up and out, I placed it among the stars and O’Bryan, where it should’ve been. I grinned then, twirling the tulip high in the crowded sky without any reservations.